Saturday 18 November 2017

Goa's Oldest Online News Portal

Is the NGT anti-development, Mr Parrikar?

 

Is it too much to expect that a government follows its own laws? Government officials must go through the same procedures they require citizens to follow before starting on construction work


On 20 August 2017, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a notification relocating the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) jurisdiction for Goa-related cases from Pune to New Delhi. It cited “lack of flight connectivity with Pune” and “absence of an office set up in the Maharashtra town” as reasons for it to be relocated. On Wednesday 11 October 2017, the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court struck it down.

The Court took suo-moto cognizance of the matter after reading news reports about the MoEF notification on 21 August. Senior Advocate S D Lotlikar was appointed amicus curiae. Shortly after, a number of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) were filed challenging the notification.

The number of cases from Goa before the NGT, Pune, was significant. Some estimates put it at 40 per cent. The fact that Thursdays and Fridays were kept only for cases from Goa seems to confirm this.

A number of NGT decisions have delayed ambitious state government projects. Prominent among these, possibly, is Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar's third bridge across the Mandovi River. The government asked bridge contractors L&T to go ahead with construction work without taking MoEF clearance for clearing mangroves on the Panaji side of the bridge. The NGT stopped this work.

Is it too much to expect that a government follows its own laws? Had the government officials gone through the same procedures they require citizens to follow before starting on construction work, there would have been no problem.

Perhaps these officials believe that they are exempt from the very laws that it is their duty to implement. But the Constitution of India does not in any way give them this privilege. When public-minded citizens approach the courts and secure orders asking the government to obey its own laws, does this make them "anti-development"?

Does it make the NGT "anti-development"? If one believes the rubbishy chatter that dominates social media, it would seem so.

But the fact here is that some government officials are simply not doing their jobs properly, and then blaming "activists" and the NGT for their own failures.

Maybe it is officials like these that persuaded the state government to seek shifting of the NGT jurisdiction over Goa from Pune to New Delhi. The MoEF told the High Court that a proposal for setting up a circuit bench in Goa was received. It sought the opinion of the NGT Chairperson, but got no response.

The ministry then got another proposal from the Goa government to transfer all matters to the principal bench in New Delhi. This it accepted, swiftly, and without any form of public consultation with other stakeholders, including litigants.

The reason given was that travel to Pune is logistically inconvenient, as there are only two flights per day in the afternoon. Therefore, litigants and lawyers have to travel a day earlier and depart a day after the matter. This, it claimed, seriously increased time and costs involved.

Further, it claimed that road travel between Goa and Pune was "dangerous", as it involved "traversing the Western Ghats". This, it said, was "especially precarious during the monsoon", which was "for essentially six months of the year".

That's a "Believe It or Not" submission, and the Court wisely chose not to believe.

In its order, the High Court bench comprising Justices G S Patel and Nutan Sardessai had words of praise for Goa: “It is a kind and gentle land, of a kind and gentle people. And it is also a land that, given its small size and small population, has had a wholly disproportionate influence on our art, culture, language, music, literature, architecture, history, design and more (even food, for many of what we consider our staples first came from here). Its greatest asset is one: its environment and its ecology — its rivers and riverbanks, its beaches, its lakes and clear streams, its dense forests, its low hills and fertile fields, its boulders and even trees shrouded with moss and vines and lichen in the rains, its ridiculously brilliant sunsets.”

That's something our state government needs to understand and act on.




Fantastic article !!

 
Prasad Sawant |

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

 

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